By Blood & Blade by Anna Augustine {Taletha; #1}

“Anna Augustine’s growth as an author is on full display with this novel, showing how she has improved on her craft and developed her ability to spin a tale of hope, love, and redemption.”

Review by Renae Powers

In the land of Taletha, the Wife Market is the prime place for young lords to find a spouse…but not the place for love. Something Inara knows all too well. After six years of rejection, she has no hope of being chosen for anything but a plaything.

When the future ruler of Taletha arrives at the Market, Inara is chosen. More shocking still, Dhamar is exactly what he appears to be: kind, gentle, and willing to build a relationship of mutual respect and trust.

Yet Dhamar has his own demons to fight. With a tyrannical father pushing for war with the Šerians, a scheming council, and the burden to protect those he loves, Dhamar is stretched thin. He wants to be a good husband to his wife, but how?

Thrown together by chance, will breaking down their walls reveal something beautiful, or leave only shattered pieces behind?

Release Date: 07/17/2023

Genre: Historical Fiction | Fantasy

Pages: 356

I received this book for free from the author. All comments and opinions are entirely my own and this review is voluntary.

I haven’t picked up a book set in a Middle East-inspired land (aside from the Bible, of course) in years, so By Blood & Blade was a welcome change of pace for me! Anna Augustine’s growth as an author is on full display with this novel, showing how she has improved on her craft and developed her ability to spin a tale of hope, love, and redemption. This story dives deeper into the darker parts of life, revealing that Augustine has no trouble writing about more painful and realistic topics. Where her romance novellas, Where You Found Me, paint biblical stories as fairytales, By Blood & Blade shows how hope and love can be found even in the most bitter and dark circumstances. 

As someone who has been through some of the darker parts of life, I really appreciated this story and how sensitively Anna told it. While this book comes with an array of trigger warnings (see the bottom of this post for details), it was told in a way that is respectful of the lived experiences of survivors of the various traumas included in the story. Some of the dark parts of the story included sexual assault and abuse, but it was never gratuitous in its depiction, which is a very fine line that most authors don’t stay on the right side of. Kudos to Augustine for handling this story in a respectful and trauma-informed way.

Now for the lighter side of things! The love in this book was so sweet and gentle, I couldn’t help cheering for Dhamar!! I will always stan a man who champions consent!!! The side characters were lovable, the antagonists were perfectly wretched and hateable, and the main characters had a great character arc. I also loved seeing an interracial couple be the center of attention!! It’s not often that I’ve spotted that in the Christian and/or indie publishing scene, so I’m proud of Anna for having the courage to put that in her story. 

There were a few things I didn’t quite love about this book, but I suppose it’s me being a bit nit-picky. The romance from Inara’s POV was a little too will-she-won’t-she for me, while somehow also managing to make Inara cave too soon to feel right. Like, so much of her inner dialogue is about how she doesn’t want to love Dhamar, but also she falls for him way too quickly for how adamantly against it she was. I’m not sure I’m explaining that well, and obviously I wanted them to fall in love, so I got over it. I just think a bit more true tension and angst was needed to make it feel more believable. Also, the resolution felt anti-climactic after all the build-up toward it. I can’t say more without spoiling things, but I would’ve liked a fuller resolution. 

Overall, I still give By Blood & Blade 5 stars. The story was a well-written display of Augustine’s growth as an author and worthy of accolades for its handling of tougher topics. I would recommend this book to anyone looking for a sweet romance set in a Middle Eastern-type setting, or who simply enjoys a story where light outshines the darkness. I very much look forward to the next installment in this series!

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Content Ratings:

Action & Gore:

Rating: 2 out of 10.
2. Injuries and violence happen, but aren’t described in any detail aside from pointing out bruises.

Romance & Spice:

Rating: 3 out of 10.
3. Moderate content (heavier kissing, but no grabby hands).

Cursing & Vulgarity:

Rating: 2 out of 10.
2. Frequent substitute cursing (commonplace "craps" etc. and book-specific words).

Other Trigger/Content Notices:

Trigger Warnings: Sexual assault and abuse, child abuse, spouse abuse, domestic violence. Depictions of post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety, avoidant behaviors, narcissism, racism and racial slurs, gender-based discrimination, and prostitution. This sounds like a lot, and can certainly be triggering depending on the reader’s level of sensitivity and where they are on their healing journey. The topics are handled gently and in a trauma-informed way, but only you know what you can handle, so make the choice that is best for you.

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